Virginia regulator won’t revoke pipelines’ water permits despite major environmental violations

Extensive damage to streams and other water sources fails to sway Virginia regulators.

Developers of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline have started cutting down trees in Augusta County, Virginia to prepare for construction of the pipeline. CREDIT: Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance
Developers of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline have started cutting down trees in Augusta County, Virginia to prepare for construction of the pipeline. CREDIT: Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance

A Virginia regulatory panel declined calls from environmental groups and landowners to reconsider important water-quality permits for two natural gas pipelines despite major environmental violations committed by the developers of the multi-billion-dollar projects.

The Virginia State Water Control Board met Tuesday in Richmond to consider public comments it requested earlier this year about the permits granted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the controversial Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines.

Both pipelines have seen a slew of violations and criticisms for failing to protect water quality. The Mountain Valley Pipeline has been issued six notices of violation in West Virginia and Virginia for failing to prevent erosion and sediment from damaging water quality along the route of the pipeline. A citizen monitoring group has submitted 58 reports of suspected erosion controls at construction sites along the path of the pipeline.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, another major natural gas pipeline proposed to travel from West Virginia into Virginia, has not begun construction in Virginia but has already been issued one notice of violation for cutting down trees in buffer zones meant to protect stream and wetland crossings.


At the hearing, Virginia State Water Control Board member Robert H. Wayland III introduced a motion that the panel consider revoking the water quality certificates for both pipelines and starting over with a stream-by-stream analysis. Wayland’s motion failed on a voice vote, 3 to 4.

“Today, three members of the State Water Control Board stood up for Virginia, recognizing that despite the assurances they received from DEQ [the Department of Environmental Quality], the scale of these projects merit greater scrutiny that could lead to amendments or even revocation of the permits,” Peter Anderson, Virginia program manager with Appalachian Voices, said Tuesday in a statement.

Instead of requiring a review of individual stream crossings, the board instead called on DEQ to conduct aggressive compliance efforts.

The board’s decision “appears to have no teeth, and could allow sediment to continue to be dumped into the water with impunity,” Anne Havemann, general counsel for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, a nonprofit environmental group, said Tuesday in a statement.


“Today was the board’s opportunity to hit pause on construction and require the agency to fully account for impacts to Virginia’s waters — a desperately needed pause for the landowners whose drinking water, streams, and property are threatened by these pipelines,” Havemann said. “We’re sorely disappointed that the Board passed up this critical opportunity.”

Tuesday’s hearing was attended by more than 300 people, with virtually all of those in attendance expressing dissatisfaction with the board’s decision. Over the summer, the board received some 13,000 comments from the public, yet at the meeting, it allowed pipeline opponents only 30 minutes total to respond to a presentation by the DEQ.

In its presentation, the DEQ warned the board against revoking the pipeline permits. The agency also defended its work and explained how it was addressing concerns raised by residents in the path of the pipelines.

“Now more than ever, Virginians need Governor Northam to take a stand to put Virginia’s water quality above the corporate interests pushing these dangerous, risky fracked-gas pipelines,” Appalachian Voices’ Anderson said.